Above: Ed Wood, Alex Gordon, and Bela Lugosi
LIGHTS FADE UP ON APRON: THE PARKING LOT. Alex and Ed.
ALEX: I’m sorry about your teeth, but they’re not worth blowing this out of the water.
ED: I fought a war for freedom to express myself. I don’t like changing the drama just to fit somebody’s radical goddamn politics.
ALEX: Take it easy. Bela isn’t exactly a right-wing conservative, either.
ED: I killed people for democracy, Alex.
ALEX: I lost people, too, Eddie, but that was war, and this is show business.
ED: Sure, cut the line. Let’s cut out all the dialogue and make it a silent movie.
ALEX: Don’t pout. We’ve got to convince them to read the script for Hyman or there’s no deal. Focus. I’ll work on Bela. You talk to Karloff.
ED: Sure, you got the easy part. Bela needs the job. OK. I’ll convince Karloff.
OFFICE: CONTINUOUS. CURTAIN OPENS. Alex & Ed enter through the back door.
ALEX: Sorry… we needed some air. Bela, I’m off, let me give you a lift home.
ED: Yes, and let me give you that updated second revised revision.
(Ed grabs a script from the desk, checks the cover, and returns to Bela.)
BELA: Thank you. I need to memorize the new lines. Come what may.
ALEX (sotto, to Ed): That is Bela’s script… ?
ED: Alphabetical. It’s the best way. Initials!
BELA: Boris… as always… (Bela bows curtly to Boris, exits through the back door with Alex. As Ed closes the door, Boris picks up a brassiere from behind the desk.)
ED: Sorry about my atomic explosion.
BORIS: Understandable. Now, this is rather queer… (He holds up the brassiere. Nervously, Ed retrieves it, holding it behind his back.)
ED: Oh. Yes. Well, my sister goes swimming a lot.
BORIS: Indeed. And these? Water wings? (He lifts two falsies from the floor. Ed takes them.)
ED: My secretary is slightly underdeveloped.
BORIS: Or your sister? Mr. Wood, please, there’s no need for excuses. If you work in the theater long enough, you’ve seen everything. (Ed chucks the bra and falsies into a desk drawer.)
ED: Not everyone would be so tolerant. I’d prefer to keep it between us.
BORIS: Not to worry. Everyone has their secrets.
ED: Everyone except you, I s’pose, being a proper gentleman and all.
BORIS: There is something I wouldn’t tell just anyone. People never understand.
ED: You said it.
BORIS: A private thing… disturbs people, so I keep it to myself. (whispers) I like keys. (Ed cocks his head. Boris nods, pantomimes putting a key in a lock, turning it.)
ED: Keys… ?
BORIS: I’ve got a whole collection at home. Big ones, tiny ones…each with a little history to it… (warming) I once found this brass house key on the street… I placed an advert, of course, heaven help the poor fellow who can’t get into his own home… luckily, no one responded… car keys, hotel keys…
ED: Yeah… keys can be very… very important…
BORIS: I’m sure they change the locks, no question of burglary--
ED: Oh, no. No, no, of course not--
BORIS (pulls out his hotel key): Room two-seventy, Chateau Marmont. And I’ll associate this key with this visit to Hollywood. You do understand, don’t you?
ED: Oh… naturally. Keys.
BORIS: I’m glad I found a kindred spirit. (Boris holds a finger to his lips, picks up his script and heads for the door.)
ED (sotto): That is so kinky… (to Boris) I’d like you to read the script tonight.
BORIS: I had every intention. I’m sure it’s splendid. You seem nice chaps.
ED: No, I mean… here, together… the executive producer, Mr. Hyman, would like to hear it. (Boris looks at him uncomprehendingly.) A script reading, an audition, so he can see you both, and… see that you’re… right for the roles….
BORIS: A backer’s audition? That’s an extraordinary request. This is a business proposition, a motion picture, not a theatrical play.
ED: Okay, it’s not so much an audition as a rehearsal--
BORIS: That’s worse, I’m afraid. There are strict SAG rules about rehearsals.
ED: Well, since we’re not filming the reading, it isn’t covered by the Actors Guild contract, is it? It’s actually a live performance--
BORIS: Then it’s covered by Actor’s Equity, and we’re back to where we started.
ED: I need to raise the money. If I can’t do that, then--
BORIS: With due respect, raising funds is your wicket, not mine. Actors get paid for rehearsals. I’ll not betray my five thousand fellow Guild members. (Boris heads for the front door-- as Alex walks in the rear. One last chance...)
ED: My backer’s concerned… he wants to make sure Bela’s okay.
BORIS: Again, understandable. It’s his money. I’ll read your script. When you’re ready to sign a contract and write a check, we’ll take the next step.
ALEX (knows it’s gone bad): Mr. Karloff… how much are you asking?
BORIS: That should be done through my agent, Alex. I just got thirty from Universal. Not top dollar, but we do what we can.
ED: Thirty… thousand… dollars…?
BORIS: I’m prepared to reduce it to twenty-five, for Bela’s sake. That’s as far as I can go. Good day, boys. (As he exits, Alex closes the door. He sees Ed’s stunned expression. He crosses to the couch and slumps, defeated.)
ED: Did Bela get home?
ALEX: Not quite. I need a pair of jumper cables.
ED: We’re sunk. I torpedoed ourselves in the foot.
ALEX: Where’s that optimism?
ED: Twenty-five thousand, Alex. I’ve never made a picture that cost that much.
ALEX: Stop. Remember, Kenny Hyman said the budget would be two or three hundred thousand. That’s plenty! And Karloff will love it. We wrote a good script. You re-wrote a better one. He’s got your specially-padded-to-make-Karloff-happy version, yes?
ED: Yeah… yeah! I did. We did! He does!
ALEX: And Bela’s got his version. Now, you put their initials on the covers?
ED: Yes, I did. On Karloff’s, I put a “B” for Boris.
ALEX: Good. And for Lugosi…? (Ed is just about to answer… and stops short. Oops.)
ALEX: “B.” For “brilliant”!
CHATEAU MARMONT HOTEL ROOM - DAY (ON STAGE APRON)
EVIE, mid 40’s, answers the phone on the night stand. Beside it, a notepad and a chair. Boris enters, in a dressing gown, eyeing at her quizzically. Yes, this is Mrs. Karloff. (a look at Boris) Mr. Gordon? (Boris waves “No.”) He can’t come to the phone right now. May I take your number? (jots on the phone pad) I’ll tell him. Bye-bye. (to Boris) I take it things didn’t go well.
BORIS: Poor Bela…he put on a good front, but he looked so very ill.
EVIE: Maybe he needs a house call from Dr. Theater.
BORIS (sits): Yes, but this isn’t Dr. Theater, it’s Dr. Voodoo. God, I’ve spent ten years trying to get away from this sort of thing, and to undo it all now--
EVIE: How’s the script?
BORIS: Probably dreadful. I haven’t had time yet. (Boris hands the script to her. Evie flips the pages as Boris speaks) Not as if I owe him anything … we never had cross words, far’s I know…those pictures he’s done… I’m sure he had reasons, but…oh! (bends to unstrap a metal brace on his leg. His fingers won’t cooperate.) And the producers… a such pair of well-meaning fat heads. Well, the boy Gordon seems nice enough. The other… !
EVIE: At the risk of sounding businesslike… do they have money to pay you?
BORIS: From the look of the place, neither has tuppence to rub together (frustrated) Goddamn fingers! Evie, darling, I’m sorry, could you-- ?
EVIE (bending to unstrap the brace): Of course. RCA called to ask if Thursday would be all right for recording. Groucho Marx called and asked how much would you --
BORIS: -- charge to haunt a house, yes, yes. I’ll have to buy him some new jokes. (frustration) Rehearsal, my eye. Amateurs. Fancy having to audition! We’ve both put in enough time to get beyond that. What cheek they have! (Boris massages his knee as Evie moves into the “other room”--behind curtain-- to put the brace away. Surreptitiously, he pulls the room key from his pocket.)
BORIS: Evelyn, be a dear and ring the front desk later. I seem to have mislaid my hotel room key.
EVIE (off): Of course. So, do you want to do this picture, assuming there is one?
BORIS: I don’t know. I suppose my agent can tell them I’ve got prior commitments. I never like to turn down work. (smiles, pockets the key)
EVIE (off): What about the Adolph Menjou show?
BORIS (rises, furious): That was a mistake! I should’ve taken the job just to get a chance to strangle him. Adolph Menjou! (Evie returns carrying a cardigan sweater, seeing fire in her husband’s eye.) Oh, Bob Taylor and little Ronnie Reagan, they’re not exactly deep thinkers. But Menjou knew better. Ship all the communists off to Texas, indeed. Oh!!
EVIE: Yes, I suppose you could say their testimony the House Un-American Activities Committee were not necessarily their finest performances. (He catches himself; pats her hand. The phone rings; Boris answers, still testy.)
BORIS: Yes? Frank! Well, hello! (to Evie) Frank Sinatra sends his love.
EVIE (a la bobbysoxers): Oh-h-h, Frankie!
BORIS: You just did what I couldn’t do in eight years of marriage, make my wife faint dead away. (beat) No, she won’t watch my pictures! (laughs) Let me ask.
EVIE: Yes, we’re free next weekend.
BORIS: Good, then we can fly out to-- (a take) How the devil did you know?
EVIE: Groucho told me. Sinatra opens in Vegas next week, we’re invited down. (She helps him with the sweater and he continues on the phone)
BORIS: Apparently we’re committed. Nobody tells me anything, I’m just some old man they keep to sweep up at night when they’re all done. (beat; puzzled) That’s right, I met with them today. Who told you about that? (He eyes Evie: she’s been gossiping. Boris glowers.) How much would I charge to haunt a house? Tell Mr. Marx it depends on the number of rooms. (beat) Yes, with Lugosi, but I’m not sure this kind of picture still --
(Evie picks up the script, gesturing to the phone quizzically. He nods-- grumpy.)
BORIS: Really? Not on my account, I hope. You know the kind of gamble that -- (grudgingly) We shall see. In any case, we’ll see you next weekend. Break a leg. (hangs up, shaking his head) You’ve been gossiping.
EVIE: Sharing information.
BORIS: Extraordinary. He’s considering investing in this picture. Madness!
EVIE: Why? He’s smart, and he’s been a fan of yours since he was a kid.
BORIS: Fans want to recapture the past. Like those two boys, I’m afraid.
EVIE: What is it you like the least? The script? That it’s a horror picture?
BORIS: It can always be rewritten. And monsters have been pretty good to me.
EVIE: Then it’s the idea of a reading?
BORIS: Yes. It’s inappropriate for them to even suggest it.
EVIE: To get From Here to Eternity, Sinatra made a screen test for free. And worked for scale. (pushing) You said they’re well-meaning. They might have good reasons.
BORIS: Producers always have “good reasons.”
EVIE: I’m not a lawyer, but if you haven’t signed a contract, it’s not a rehearsal, legally, is it? And since they want you in the part, it’s not truly an audition…? (He looks at her, smiling softly. A small chuckle.)
BORIS: Bend the rules but don’t break them? Evie, you may be right. (She kisses him tenderly on the cheek and picks up the phone receiver.)
EVIE (on phone): Can you give me Prospect 6, 9221, please. (hands him the receiver) For Auld Lang Syne. Or maybe just to help a fellow actor. (exits).
BORIS (on phone): Hello, Mr. Gordon, this is Boris Karloff. No need to apologize. I acted rashly. Yes, I will-- under certain conditions. This is not to be considered an audition-- agreed? And we shan’t consider this a rehearsal, either… purely informal…
He continues as the LIGHTS DIM…and the CURTAIN OPENS